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Reading Aloud vs Self-Conciousness

Recently, I dropped my son off at choir practice and had an hour to kill while he sang. It was a cold, windy day so I opted to bring along a book, hang out in the car and read. I don’t get to actually read books as often as I’d like. I listen to a lot of audiobooks because I feel like I have to be multitasking and getting things done while I enjoy a book. But this book was a lovely, thick paperback borrowed from the library and perfectly broken in and I was relishing the feel of it.

I began to read aloud and then another parent pulled up into the parking spot beside me. Am I the only adult who likes to read aloud? And if not, am I the only one who is self-conscious about letting others see me reading aloud?

The Overthinking Begins

My logical brain said, “Who cares if this guy sees you reading out loud? You don’t even know him and you have no reason to need his good opinion. Let him think what he wants.” But my anxious brain said, “He’ll think I can’t read without reading aloud. He’ll think I’m weird. If I turn the other way, another parent will see. Can I put the sunshade down far enough that he won’t be able to see me? Can I move the car without looking super sus? Do you think they can hear me reading aloud from outside the car?” 

An anxious brain is a real bitch. If you don’t know what that feels like, be grateful. If you do, well – solidarity.

Photo by Kai Dewitt via Pexels

Anyway, I ended up caving and mostly reading to myself but in retrospect I don’t like the decision. I don’t have many opportunities to read a book aloud when I won’t disturb someone else who’s in the room or sleeping in the next room. I should have taken the opportunity and let the other parents worry about why they were staring into a stranger’s vehicle. But I’ve always been self-conscious about the fact that I read aloud. The whole event made me wonder why I like to do that when many others hate it. 

Why Do I Read Aloud?

I decided to look into it. I was thinking specifically of books and the sad statistics about how infrequently adults read them. But there are many other texts we encounter day to day. Recipes, difficult instructions, news articles – these are all things we tend to read aloud, either to share them with people around us or to better understand them.

And therein lay the answer. I do it to engage with the text and to understand it. 

Reading those other texts aloud seems pretty normal to me. Coworkers will quickly read a news story to the group so we know about a town event. We read procedures manuals aloud to one another when trying to figure out how to handle some task. My husband will read an email he’s received. None of us ever even think twice about it. We also don’t think twice about an adult reading a book to their child in the waiting room of a doctor’s office or at night before bed.

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Also, my family has often read together. My husband and I took turns reading Percy Jackson, the first three Harry Potter books, and others. I’ve read books aloud to my husband from time to time as well. A little old fashioned maybe but not unusual.

Still, all of that feels more normal than me sitting alone, reading aloud to myself. 

Silly, Old Stigma

I discovered this article about a 2018 study on reading aloud. The first paragraph pretty much sums up why I feel self-conscious. “Reading aloud is something usually associated with children or unsophisticated readers, a remedial technique to be phased out as soon as people learn to read silently.” Generally when we were young they wanted to know that we could read silently and retain information. Those who continued to whisper or mouth the words were considered to be less proficient readers. My anxiety in youth would not allow me to risk being considered “less proficient.” I didn’t have to be the best at everything but I wanted it made clear that I was not the worst. Maybe that anxious part of me is still an elementary school child who’s trying to prove that she’s a “good” student.

Besides, it’s time to throw those tired beliefs away – we know better now. Learning and proficiency look different for different people. And it turns out just about everyone can benefit from a little out-loud reading. The Science of Learning blog goes on to say that participants in the study showed better reading retention when they read aloud than when they read silently or even when they listened to words being read.

“…verbally pronouncing a word creates a memorable experience — a phenomenon the researchers call the “production effect”. The active cognitive process of encoding the word into speech also helps to encode it into long-term memory.”

Dylan Hendricks

Production effect may be the reason why some teachers I had in middle and high school went around the room asking every student to read two paragraphs from some textbook instead of actually discussing the subject. If that recollection wakes up a feeling of numbness, fear, or extreme boredom, it may not have been as effective as those teachers hoped. For some of you, that may have been the last time you read aloud.

Reading Aloud is Good, Actually

It might be time to give reading aloud another try for a fun reason. If reading after a busy day at work is hard for your brain like it is for mine, reading aloud could be the answer. It helps to fully engage you in the task whether reading is a favorite pasttime or a new hobby.

If you’re already an avid reader, reading aloud can help your retention so you can later review or discuss the book. It’s great also if you’re studying for a degree or a new work certification. Studies cited in this BBC article showed that children “recognised 87% of the words they’d read aloud, but only 70% of the silent ones” and adults “were able to correctly identify 80% of the words they had read aloud, but only 60% of the silent ones.” 

Reading in General Is the Important Thing

Photo by George Dolgikh via Pexels

If you’re not a reader at all, I encourage trying it. Silently, aloud, via audiobook, whatever. Check out this article from Comfy Living that sums up a number of reading statistics about the benefits for people of all ages. It can reduce stress, help you sleep better, and  decrease mental decline in old age. With a library card, it’s even free, so you have nothing to lose by giving it another try. I’d be lost without my public library’s Libby app that allows me to borrow ebooks and audiobooks day or night. Check if your library has it or something similar. 

The little bit of research I did seems to confirm what I really already knew. It’s not that unusual to read aloud. It’s something we do instinctively to better understand a text. I hope that from here forward, I won’t hesitate to read aloud when I’m alone and disturbing no one. But, if you see me in my car with the sunshades down trying to be secretive, mind your business. Confidence is a lifelong work in progress. And tell me in the comments – do you ever read aloud?

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